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Zen Meditation

By Ron Martin

Part 9

Chapter 13: Questions and Answers

In addition to those readers who are new to Buddhist philosophy, and may now be tempted to study it further, there may be some who already have some familiarity with the subject, yet have difficulty resolving certain problems. This chapter, although limited in the range of questions it deals with, has been compiled to help both kinds of reader realise that no amount of study can provide all the answers. Having come from a mind that is not fully Enlightened it is to be hoped that it will be seen as an attempt to point the way ahead, rather than as a desire to assume the role of teacher.

There is a similarity between what follows and the Question and Answer technique used by some Zen Masters. Here, again, it must be stressed that this in no way implies a belief that it is on the same plane as their great works. Those Zen Masters, in their wisdom, knew what the mental obstructions of their pupils were and that the best way of breaking through to the Essence of Mind was to hammer at the same theme over and over again, but with subtle variations, and that a formal question and answer session was a good way of doing this. This has been attempted here in the hope that, at the very least, it will encourage the reader to go further along the Path.

Is there a limit to the type of object we should use for meditation? Would it not be best to use only those which are beautiful, or give rise to pleasant associations?

There are only five objects suitable for meditation — our faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling.

You have just said that our faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling are the only suitable objects for meditation, yet earlier you mentioned the ticking of a clock as being a suitable object. Does this not indicate some confusion as to which is subject and which is object?

The necessities of language compel us to speak of subject and object as if they were separate entities, but in reality this is not so. When our Buddha Mind is perceived there is no differentiation between subject and object and so there is no confusion.

You mentioned five faculties as being the only suitable objects for meditation, but we have a sixth faculty, that of thought. Why has this been excluded?

The faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling are intrinsically pure and cannot, of themselves, give rise to dualism. Thought is the source of the delusion of a separate self and is therefore unsuitable as an object of meditation. However, we cannot exclude thoughts from the mind by intention, since the very act of intending requires thought, and so it would be attempting to use the mind to cleanse the mind. Meditation is simply a device for pointing our minds in the right direction by bringing conceptual thought to and end.

What is self-deception?

Idealism is self-deception. The belief that we can make ourselves ‘good’ by trying to be ‘good’ is self-deception. The belief that we can use the mind to cleanse the mind is self-deception.

However, it is because we have so little faith in the Buddha within that we have to use the self in the process of destroying the self. Self-deception is an aid to liberation from the self because it turns the mind inwards and only if we look within can the Buddha Mind be found. But it is still only thinking about the Buddha Mind and so continues the state of duality; the final barrier can be broken down only by experiencing our Buddha nature in a condition of ‘no-thought’. That is what meditation is.

Surely the examples you gave of contemplation in preparation for meditation — listening to ‘religious’ music, reading poetry and looking at flowers in a garden — are really forms of meditation, since we are not conscious of the self when we do these things.

The Buddha Mind is not only self-less but is also timeless. When you listen to music you may not be conscious of the self but you are conscious of time, otherwise you would not be hearing music, only undifferentiated sound. All forms of contemplation omit at least one of the characteristics of the Buddha Mind and are therefore not meditation.

If I listen to the ticking of a clock during meditation will I not also be conscious of the passage of time?

If you concentrate on the sequence of sounds, instead of on sound as a pure experience, you will be conscious of the passage of time. In practice this presents less difficulty than it does in theory but, if it does become a problem, then you should change to something else, using one of the other senses.

Would it not be better to use a continuous tone as an object of meditation?

If you do you will find extraneous sounds having a time sequence (coming and going) more troublesome. Also, do not overlook the fact that the feeling of breathing in and out has a time sequence, and since it is a pure experience it must not be excluded from the mind by intention, so you cannot escape from time simply by changing the object used in meditation. Extraneous experiences are a problem only if they worry the meditator; as previously mentioned, an experienced meditator would have no difficulty meditating in a tube train.

How do I know if I am meditating?

If you are conscious of time passing you are not meditating; a pure experience is of the Here and Now and is therefore timeless. If you are conscious of the ticking of a clock (or whatever is the object of meditation) as coming from ‘over there’ then you are not meditating; an object of meditation is not separate from the self but is the Self.

However, you must not think that timelessness and selflessness will be experienced from the moment you start to the end of each session — you cannot defeat ‘original sin’ as easily as that. If, after two or three sessions, you experience timelessness and selflessness for only a few moments this will be progress. Your greatest problem after that will be the tendency to wonder whether the period of timelessness and selflessness is increasing at each subsequent session, but this matter of monitoring meditation has been dealt with earlier.

Why does sensory deprivation have strange effects on the mind?

Sensory deprivation has strange effects on the mind because the mind is virtually denied access to pure experiences and is left only with thoughts; but since thought is the source of all delusions the mind then has nothing to hold these in check. Sensory deprivation is therefore the opposite of meditation, where the aim is to have pure experiences without thoughts.

In view of what you said earlier, what have you to say about The Noble Eightfold Path — which is fundamental to Buddhist doctrine — is this not a form of self-deception, because of its ‘programme’ for Enlightenment?

The Noble Eightfold Path is precisely what it is claimed to be — a Path — it is not the Goal. So long as we are conscious of being on the Path then the separate self exists. It is only when there is no differentiation between ourselves, the Path, and the Goal, that duality comes to an end and there is only the one. This is why we cannot think our way to Enlightenment.

What is Truth?

Truth is Void, like the track of a bird in flight; it neither exists, nor does it not exist, but when you know Truth, you know. You know that you have the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling; it is sufficient to start with these, because when you know one aspect of the Truth you recognise the Truth in all its manifestations. Truth is the Tao; it is formless and nameless and yet, as the Mother of Existence, it encompasses all forms and all names.

Can you explain a miracle in Buddhist terms?

Whenever you walk, that is a miracle; whenever you see a flower, that is a miracle; whenever you hear a bird sing, that is a miracle. How many miracles do you want?

You misunderstand me, I want to know what a real miracle is, defined in a dictionary as a supernatural event.

When subjective knowledge and objective knowledge are not in alignment then we call the happening a miracle; but when subjective knowledge and objective knowledge are in alignment an event is not seen as being a miracle. Logically, you should either see everything that happens as being a miracle, or nothing that happens as being a miracle.

Picking and choosing your evidence is no way to discover the Truth. You think that a miracle is an event that cannot be explained, but can you explain how you walk, see a flower, or hear a bird sing?

It has been said that Wisdom and Compassion are the Twin Pillars of Buddhism. What is the foundation of these Pillars?

The Buddha Mind is the foundation of Wisdom and Compassion.

You said that we are intent on escaping from reality, but if reality is the Buddha Mind why do we want to escape from it?

It is the self — the ego — that wants to escape from reality, because reality destroys the self as a separate entity, but our Buddha Mind will not let us escape. It is the conflict between the ego and the Buddha Mind that causes dissatisfaction, unhappiness and despair (Dukkha).

You have only briefly mentioned the Buddhist doctrine of Karma. Why is this?

Karma is a marvellous and comprehensive doctrine, but even if understood in its entirety it would not bring you one step nearer to Enlightenment. However, some of its effects have been mentioned, as in answer to your last question.

I can understand why a Christian has such mental torment, trying to incorporate the fact of suffering into his belief. Would it solve the problem if he no longer believed in the duality between God and Man?

Merely to believe in non-duality is not enough; it must be experienced. Suffering is a problem only if you distance yourself from it, which happens all the time you believe that there is an external cause or, to put it another way, that there is a separate self to which suffering occurs. So long as there is a delusion of a separate self pain will always be seen as a problem, distinct from its actual experience. When the Abbot Kwaisen allowed himself to be burned alive by the soldiers of Oda Nobunaga, sitting calmly in the posture of meditation, it showed that this is no idle speculation.

Similarly, unpleasant sights, unpleasant sounds and unpleasant smells and tastes all arise from the same cause. It helps to alleviate the problem if you realise that the faculty of feeling is an inevitable condition of existence. It helps even more if you relieve the sufferings of others, since by doing so you bring their suffering into your life, and this diminishes the condition of duality; but it must be non-selfconscious action, otherwise you will merely be a ‘do-gooder’, and this will not lessen the problem. However, there can be no final solution so long as you intellectualise about it and do not experience the real answer which, like the Tao, is beyond explanation.

If I lose my sight, or hearing, would my Essence of Mind be diminished as a result?

No, the faculties of sight, hearing, smell, taste and feeling may be likened to access points, through which there is admittance to the Essence of Mind — which is the Buddha Mind — the manifestation of which is the Buddha nature. If sight, or hearing, is lost then this reduces the number of access points, but because the Essence of Mind stays unimpaired the remaining access points become enhanced as a result. Remember, also, as in answer to an earlier question, that when you know one aspect of the Truth you know the Truth in all its manifestations. This is why, in meditation, it is quite sufficient to concentrate on a single pure experience.

If a person is born mentally impaired is that person’s Essence of Mind impaired as well?

No — the Essence of Mind cannot be impaired. Such a person can still see, hear, smell, taste and feel, and these faculties are no different from those of one who is normal. It is only the ability to construct concepts about experiences that differ, but since all concepts are illusions, anyway, the distinction between normality and mental impairment is a matter of convention. Such a person can be more kind and loving than one who is normal, but convention does not take this into account.

I am still uneasy about the idea of a separate self being an illusion. Surely, my body is separate from your body, and my mind is separate from your mind. How can I ever see this otherwise?

Never, if you continue trying to think your way to Enlightenment! Your immediate error is in supposing that, if a separate self is an illusion, then this is tantamount to saying that it does not exist; but since it clearly does exist, then it cannot be an illusion. But this is to confuse two forms of reality — the reality of appearances and the reality of the Absolute. The reality of appearances is that grass is green, but you should know by now that in Absolute terms this is not so. However, the Reality of the Absolute does not exclude the reality of appearances, since you know that grass is green. If you could only grasp the distinction between grass is green and grass is green you would understand, in a flash, the cause of dualism. You cannot err if you accept only that which you know for certain. You know that you have the faculties of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling — the very moment you step beyond this you are back in the world of duality. You must not even have the idea that there is nothing more to non-duality than having experiences without concepts, since that idea is, itself, a concept, and misses the Goal completely.

I think I am now nearer to realising the distinction between grass is green and grass is green. If I do gain this insight will I be Enlightened?

Presumably only if that realisation is permanent, but the ‘original sin’ of the mind is so powerful that, to most of us, it does not last. The great Zen Masters called this flash of insight “Kensho”, but it is only a stage on the way to Enlightenment (Satori). One thing can be said for sure is that once you have had this experience your life will never be the same again. Outwardly, you will appear ‘normal’, but you will be happy under circumstances in which other people would be miserable, and calm in circumstances where others would be flustered. Inwardly, you will have gained insights into all manner of problems that most people find perplexing. Above all, you will have gained confidence in the Buddha Mind within and know that the Unshakeable Deliverance of the Mind is attainable, even if it is not attained in this life. If this answer ends with an enigma it is because you still do not grasp the distinction between grass is green and grass is green.

All profound religious truths are about integration, and the core of Buddhist integration is the coalescence of the ‘in here’ and ‘out there’ to make the one, but this condition will always elude you if all you do is to intellectualise about it. There is no answer other than to “Look within, thou art Buddha”.

(N.B. Various interpretations have been given for the meanings of the terms ‘Kensho’ and ‘Satori’. In this book the former is treated as being a flash of insight and the latter as a more permanent experience. In truth, of course, neither can be precisely defined, because they are beyond the scope of language, as is the term ‘Nirvana’.)

Ron wrote an extension to Chapter 13 of this book, answering readers’ questions.

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